The Wolfpack are headed into this season with plenty to look forward to. The primary reason for the hype revolves around fifth year senior QB Jacoby Brissett. Throughout last season, Brissett proved his innate ability to create big plays, whether it be with his arm or his legs. Brissett ran for over 500 yards and had three touchdowns on the ground last year. Alongside of his running skills, Brissett had one of the better seasons in the country in terms of throwing the ball. He completed 60% of his passes, throwing for a grand total of 2606 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. Combining his rushing and passing totals, Brissett ended the season with over 3000 total yards, over 25 total TDs, and, again, only 5 picks. The only other quarterbacks in the Power 5 conferences who amassed these totals in 2014 were Marcus Mariota, Nick Hundley, and Cody Kessler. Brissett put together a truly great season last year, and his leadership will carry the Wolfpack through this season. While the Heisman Trophy may be a bit lofty at this point, another year of experience in Doeren’s system will allow Brissett to replicate and even exceed his numbers from a year ago, so do not be surprised to see him as a potential dark horse candidate for College Football’s most prestigious award.
It is important to note that Brissett is not alone headed into this season. He has a strong and very wide array of weapons all over the field for him to utilize. The only contributing member of the offense that NC State lost in the offseason was Bo Hines, and while he was the Pack’s leading receiver, there is more than enough left to make up for his talent. NC State has a strong group of young, quick, and athletic receivers, including Bra’lon Cherry, Jaylen Samuels, Naquan Brown, and newcomer Nyheim Hines. Further, TE David Grinnage provides Brissett with a big, impact receiver at the goal line. However, while State has a solid dispensary of receivers to draw from, it will make its greatest offensive mark through the running game. Tony Creecy graduated after last season, but his loss allows for Shadrach Thornton to play a more central role in the ground attack. Thornton will be joined in the backfield by freshman Reggie Gallaspy II and the guy who could be the key to the whole season, Matt Dayes. Last year, Thornton led the Wolfpack with in carries, rushing yards, and rushing TDs. He will miss the first two games this year in accordance with his recent suspension, but when he returns, he will have an immediate impact as the go-to guy in the backfield. Meanwhile Dayes is an all-around threat in all parts of the game. In limited touches last year (10.5 per game), he was 3rd in the ACC in TDs with 13. If he is cut loose this year, then his big-play potential will add an important element to NC State’s offensive attack. Dayes has stated his intentions to reach 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving this season, which is not outside of the realm of possibilities for him. He was the only player in the FBS to have over 300 yards rushing, receiving, and returning last year with over 10 total touchdowns. With more touches his year, his productivity should see a major lift, as should NC State’s offense.
This season, we are looking at a Wolfpack team that, if it can stay healthy, will finally make a push to challenge Florida State and Clemson in the very strong ACC Atlantic division. Jacoby Brissett will lead the way with talent, strategy, and experience. Shadrach Thornton will pound the ball repeatedly and hope to build off his great season last year. Matt Dayes should see an increase of workload in the running and passing game, and has the ability to be one of the biggest threats in the ACC, and maybe even the entire country. NC State’s defense was rock solid at the end of 2014, and no key defensive players were lost in the offseason. Overall, the Wolfpack are on an upward trend – one which will continue into this season. The Wolfpack will contend with some of the ACC’s best, and home matchup with Clemson this year opens up the chance for a season-defining upset.
Prediction time: NC State will build off of last year’s success, with the potential of contending for an ACC title. There will be disappointment along the way, but NC State will also show flashes of excellence, possibly knocking off one of the top teams in the conference. I predict that they will finish the year 8-4, and will gain entrance into a bowl game of a higher caliber. Expect good things in Raleigh this year.